Late night television is famous for its advertisements, including those regarding male pattern baldness. If these ads are accurate, many men (and some women) suffer from some sort of hair loss, thanks to a genetic predisposition. Although no cure has yet been found, treatments range from hair implants to topical solutions, but the effectiveness of these procedures are still debated. What if there were a natural way to stimulate new hair growth? This is where stem cells come in, and now, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have learned how to convert regular adult stem cells into hair follicle-generating cells called epithelial stem cells (EpSCs), which may lead to a better treatment for hair loss.
The scientists began with normal human skin cells. They added three specific genes to those cells, which gave those cells the ability to become any kind of cell. After that, they carefully timed growing those cells into epithelial stem cells, which are found in hair follicles. In the study, they succeeded in converting more than 25% of the skin stem cells into epithelial stem cells. These were added to mouse skin cells and then grafted onto mice, resulting in a layer of skin almost identical to the human epidermis, hair follicles included. In fact, this new epidermis also contained actual hair shafts.
This is the first time scientists have successfully made these epithelial stem cells. These results are promising, not just for treating baldness, but also for applications involving wound healing and possibly even cosmetic treatments like plastic surgery. However, those suffering from hair loss shouldn't celebrate just yet, as this is still very much a mice-in-a-lab solution and not a hair-on-your-head solution. But it's a start.